July 27, 2013

Charles Olson - In Cold Hell, In Thicket

Charles Olson (27 December 1910 – 10 January 1970) was a second generation American modernist poet who was a link between earlier figures such as Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams and the New American poets, which includes the New York School, the Black Mountain School, the Beat poets, and the San Francisco Renaissance. Consequently, many postmodern groups, such as the poets of the language school, include Olson as a primary and precedent figure. . . Olson's first book, Call Me Ishmael (1947), a study of Herman Melville's novel Moby Dick, was a continuation of his M.A. thesis from Wesleyan University. . . .Olson coined the term postmodern in a letter of August 1951 to his friend and fellow poet, Robert Creeley.
Video Title: Charles Olson | In Cold Hell, in Thicket. Source: skimber. Date Published: March 24, 2010. Description:
Charles Olson reading "In Cold Hell, in Thicket" (1950) sometime in the mid-60s in Gloucester, MA—late night, recorded for Robert Creeley. Audio courtesy Ron Silliman and PennSound audio archive.

Image: Ivan Besse—Britton, SD 1938-39 courtesy Rick Prelinger and archive.org

Text transcribed from The Collected Poems of Charles Olson: Excluding the Maximus Poems edited by George Butterick

Premiered at the Charles Olson Centenary Conference Worcester, MA on 27 March 2010—Fuller Theater
Below is an excerpt from the essay, "Postmodern Bildungsromans: The Drama of Recent Autobiography," by Paul Christensen from the book, "Conversant Essays: Contemporary Poets on Poetry" edited by James McCorkle. Published in 1990 by Wayne State University Press. Pg. 510. (Source).
"Occasionally in autobiography one gets the essence of a whole movement in literature, of an epoch of thought, a turn in the concept of the self. Within the broad movement known as postmodernism, there are two texts in particular where this occurs---in Charles Olson's In Cold Hell, In Thicket, published in 1953, and in Clayton Eshleman's Indiana, which appeared in 1969. Olson was a formidable thinker and arguer, among the two or three seminal minds that formulated postmodernism; it should be no surprise that he was capable of portraying the new self of postmodernism in his own autobiographical poetry, which he carefully sorted into a narrative scheme in his book, In Cold Hell, In Thicket. The title refers to the opening of Dante's Inferno, the "selva oscura," the dark wood Dante wanders into at the middle of his life, where he enters into the three spheres of the Christian universe. Olson's book is a similar excursion into visionary experience, where he struggles to wrest a new understanding from his own midlife and emerges in the third and final section of the book with a sense of himself as remade, a voice of his own times. It is his personal drama, using his own undisguised experience and conflict, calling himself by name. He means to direct the reader to Olson's personal reexamination in order to show the reader the wrenching process of deliverance, by turns grueling and funny, dramatic and trivial---a molting of rebirthing that is difficult, graceless, but necessary. He sheds old opinions, grudges, convictions as he struggles to adopt a new mind and perspective. The book was not considered all that remarkable at the time; it was lost among other, perhaps more colorful and dramatic poems by him and a wide circle of writers whom we now called postmodernists. Olson was better known for his essay "Projective Verse" (1950), where his key notions of a new poetry drew fire from traditional critics and aroused many young writers to try writing in the mode he suggested. But looking back these thirty years, it is clear that if one wants an essential text, autobiographical in substance, innovative in style, and central to an understanding of postmodernism, In Cold Hell, In Thicket is it."    
Charles Olson - In Cold Hell, In Thicket (Text).